TUKWILA — Historically, the Sounders have been quite impressive in the second legs of their two-game playoff series.

The issue, often a season-debilitating one, has been the start.

Whether at home or on the road, Seattle hasn’t scored in any of its five series openers, having been outscored a combined 7-0. Safe to say it’s a trend that has the team’s full attention heading into the Western Conference semifinals against rival and No. 1 seed Portland.

The first leg of the home-and-home, aggregate-goals series is 7 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field.

“We’ve talked about it already and we know what we have to do,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We have to make sure we take care of the first game appropriately.”

Starting at home should help. The worst damage has come when the Sounders were the higher seed in the matchup and, thus, had to start out on the road.

Those two instances, against Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Los Angeles Galaxy last season, ended in disastrous 3-0 defeats that Seattle couldn’t recover from, even with dominant performances in the return leg.

Also on the Sounders’ side? Their stars are heating up.

The team’s last three goals were scored by the U.S. national team trio of Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, all of whom missed time throughout the year for international duty.

Dempsey scored his first goal for Seattle in Sunday’s regular-season finale and added an assist in Wednesday’s Western Conference knockout round. Johnson and Evans provided the goals in the playoff opener against Colorado.

“Guys like Eddie, Clint, Brad, they’re all very proud, good athletes, good soccer players, good leaders,” said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, “and you see them carrying themselves a little bit differently, which translates into some of the younger guys. It helps the younger guys manage those difficult moments in games, and how the young guys react is just as important as how the big players act in those big moments.”

Johnson noted last week: “It’s up to us to make our teammates better.”

A strong start is depending on it.

Soccer or football?

CenturyLink Field will have football markings for Saturday’s game, due to the short turnaround leading into the Seahawks’ home game Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Unaesthetic as it may be, the Sounders have no choice.

“It’s the unfortunate reality of a two-professional-team stadium with the timing,” said Adrian Hanauer, part owner and general manager. “We probably could’ve avoided this if we had done a little better job collecting points toward the end of the season. … We’re not happy about it, but we’re going to have to make the most of it.”

Hanauer added the Sounders will continue to seek out solutions to try to avoid similar occurrences in the future.

Schmid at least saw one benefit: “It should be easy for the referee to figure out 10 yards (on free kicks), though, which will be a big help. He doesn’t have to use that stupid spray can.”

Notes

• Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales have made a wager on the outcome of the playoff series. The loser has to wear the scarf of the winning team and also send the winner a case of a local microbrew.

• Defender DeAndre Yedlin will be a game-time decision after spraining his right ankle in Wednesday’s knockout round. The rookie was able to train on a limited basis Friday. DP forward Obafemi Martins (groin) has not returned to practice since early in the week, and his status remains uncertain.

Michael Gspurning is suspended due to his red card Wednesday. Marcus Hahnemann will start in his place, backed up by league pool goalkeeper Doug Herrick, a Seattle native. Johnson and forward Lamar Neagle are on yellow-card warning and will be suspended a game upon their next caution unless it comes in the second leg of the conference finals.

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In the five playoff series Seattle has played in since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders have never scored in the first leg and have won only one series.
Year and opponent First-leg result Aggregate result
2009 vs. Dynamo T, 0-0 L, 1-0
2010 vs. Galaxy L, 1-0 L, 3-1
2011 vs. Real Salt Lake L, 3-0 L, 3-2
2012 vs. Real Salt Lake T, 0-0 W, 1-0
2012 vs. Galaxy L, 3-0 L, 4-2

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers